Off Topic: Sometimes They Come Back.

From the opening of “LA Story”

Well, I did have a review that I was going to finish up but then I got distracted by,, food! A friend of mine sent me for my birthday a set of two of these new microwave dishes that I am sure you’ve seen advertised on the interwebs: they have lids with silicone seals and can go from icebox to microwave and back and are guaranteed to, blah,blah,blah. Well, these actually delivered! They microwave veggies to perfection and will heat up that Trader Joe’s Fried Rice (don’t judge) just as well.

But the real food distractions were the return of two beloved LA/WeHo food purveyors, one of which you have seen and one of which you might not have: Tail O’ the Pup and Irv’s.

Tail O’ at the San Vicente Location. Photo Credit: Alan Taylor, Wikipedia Commons

Tail O’ was a Los Angeles Icon, it’s iconic hot-dog shape appearing in television and movies for decades: In the “Rockford Files” pilot Jim Rockford stops by for a dog with a client/suspect. Jake Scully stops by to buy his (he will find out later) cheating girlfriend hot dogs in “Body Double” and he whole dog can be seen being airlifted over the LA Basin in “LA Story.” The stand itself first stood near the corner of La Cienega and Beverly in Los Angeles before being displaced in the 80’s for the wholly unnecessary Hotel Sofitel, landing around the corner on San Vicente just north of Beverly. That was the location where I used to go at least twice a month, usually with my friend Lynn. Lynn was chronically late and therefore missed out on the best star sighting I’ve ever had: Ella Fitzgerald. She was delicately munching an extreme dog, careful not to get any on her Chanel suit, before being whisked away in her Mercedes Landaulet limo by her uniformed chauffeur. Sadly, Cedars Sinai (the hospital who owned the lot) had plans to develop the parcel and the Dog went into storage for years. The then owners died, the hot dog briefly became part of the Valley Relics museum and people from LA Mayoral candidate Rick Caruso and then BH Mayor John Mirisch tried to find space for it. It wasn’t until the 1933 Group (previous saviors of the Formosa Cafe seen in “LA Confidential”) came along and put it up on Santa Monica just west of La Cienega that if found a (it’s to be hoped) permanent home. In a bit of history meeting history, it’s now on the front of a building that the Doors were using as an office and record “LA Woman.”

So, is it the same? It still has some of the same menu (albeit pricier, but what isn’t 20 years later?) but I’d honestly have to say “no.” It’s glitzier, a little more precious, and more corporate. But that’s churlish whining: it never could be anything like it was in 2000 and I am sure that there were people in 2000 who lamented the Tail o’ they loved from 1980, 1960, or 1946 when it opened. I’m very glad that it’s there for a new generation to gobble down hot dogs and perhaps have a legendary star sighting they’ll want to share.

T-Shirt from when Irv’s was forced to move.

Less well known, but arguably just as beloved was Irv’s Burgers. Irv’s was opened in 1946 (a good year for fast food in West Hollywood..) as Queen’s at the Northeast corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Sweetzer Avenue, about a mile from Tail O’s original location. In 1970 it changed it’s name to Irv’s for the new owner, and served to the likes of Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison, who’s office was a stroll down the boulevard. Irv’s really came into it’s own and into the heart of locals when it was taken over in the late 90’s by Sonia Hong and her family. She especially was famous for her friendliness and her hand-drawn cartoons of the customers on the napkins and to go bags with the legend “Just for You.” The tiny stand took up a small corner of the lot; the rest was a small car repair place.

Time and progress of course put an end to that and eventually the lot was developed into a completely silly concept restaurant called Beach Nation, who’s gimmick was filling the parking lot with sand. Because, beach. Or more likely cat box, but nobody asks me these things. Irv’s was forced out and moved to a location down the street where they stayed for several years. The elder Mr. Hong eventually died and Mrs Hong decided to retire so after a tearful goodbye, in 2018 Irv’s closed. But Sonia wasn’t through. I saw her on the street a few months after the closing and she told me she was now working at Hamburger Mary’s, sadly from what I could tell not making the burgers, since they were awful. After the pandemic and to the surprise of everyone I knew, it was announces that Irv’s would reopen in a smaller space next to the (still unrented) space they used to occupy. Sonia was partnering with the founder of the app Off The Menu and restauranteur Armen Piskoulian of Oui Melrose to bring back Irv’s with a few additions to the menu, all of the old standards, and her own inimitable flair.

So, once again, is it the same? Well, pretty much. The burgers are still just about the best you’re going to get in a 10 mile radius and not pay

One of Sonia’s infamous welcoming doodles.

what you would for a used iPad. They’ve added a few things like salads and baked goods, but the main thing is that Sonia is there. She is, as always, a little dynamo. Efficiently running the kitchen, greeting customers old and new as friends, and yes, making sure you’re order is “just for you”

I can’t ask for more.

So if you’re in LA you have two stops near to ScentBar, Melrose Place and Rodeo Drive to stop and smell the hot dogs. Let me know when you’re coming and I’ll happily join you.

I’m sure you all have places in your towns that are long time favorites, whether they’re still going strong or just a memory. Please tell us about them in the comments, and remember, sometimes they come back..

Photos are mine except the photo of the San Vicente location of Tail O’. which is by Alan Taylor and is from Wikipedia Commons.

  • alityke says:

    I’m still in mourning that the best pizza takeaway locally has closed after more than 30 years. Fresh sourdough made every morning for pizza bases, hand made flat breads for kebabs. Home made tomato, chilli sauces & garlic yoghurt made daily. All the toppings were high quality. We ordered 2 or 3 times a month for 30 years. We knew he was struggling when he apologised for moving to pitta rather than the huge flat breads & the pots of sauce were smaller. When he changed the quality of toppings the writing was in the wall. I miss the hotshot pizza & calzone kebab (folded pizza crust with chargrilled lamb, chicken or both & chargrilled onions with a sides of Turkish salad & your choice of sauce). Mmmmmmm…

  • ElizaC says:

    My hubby and I want to eat at Musso and Frank someday! Now we have two other places to try. We love the idea of having a “third place”. In Seattle, we love Le Pichet (so many breakfasts and lunches). Matt’s in the Market – a couple times a year, I’d go sit at their bar, get a gimlet and their deviled eggs and chat about art with Robbie the daytime bartender. Lastly, Zig Zag Cafe – center of the Seattle cocktail community. My husband is a fan of the movie “Chinatown” and nearly fell over when the person next to us at the bar was a LA Water Commissioner.

    • Tom says:

      I’ve never spent time in Seattle and would love to.

      I have spent time at Musso & Frank’s and highly recommend it.

  • Dina C. says:

    What a great glimpse of your neighborhood and two beloved eateries. I can relate. While I wasn’t born in Virginia, I’ve lived here since I was eleven. We used to have a pizza place called Victor’s which closed to much sadness after decades. Also a regional seafood restaurant chain called Chesapeake Bay Seafood House which folks still get nostalgic about and lament its passing. I’d love to visit LA and grab burgers with you someday! Haven’t been to California since I was born — the life of a military brat!

    • Tom says:

      The list of places I love that have sadly gone belly-up is long and varied. That’s why it was so nice to have these two come back.

      Any time you are in CA, I’m open!

  • Musette says:

    TomDelicious – this post made me so homesick for LA, especially WeHo. I loved Tail o’.

    A bit further West… Killer Shrimp, which has changed – a lot. And Aunt Kizzie’s, where I used to chat with Li’l Richard, who was a regular (I remember when he SANG ‘Happy Birthday’ to a tourist patron. She, being younger than his shoes, had NO idea what had just happened. sigh.
    And Santa Monica Farms(Jr. don’t ask) grocery on Main – the absolute best aguas on the …. well, anywhere. I make their sandia agua and think of them, always.

    I second Portia’s comment. Next year in LA!


  • March says:

    This was so great! That Ella story! I really want to get back there, and we can go for a burger … so last night on a free summer concert night I once again had a fajita from El Molero, a food cart on the plaza, he was there in the nineties when I first lived here, same guy. They’re nothing fancy — beef or chicken, homemade salsa, etc. wrapped in a tortilla and they are FANTASTIC — the price rose from $5 to $7 in 30 years which seems fair. I could have cried when I moved back last year and realized he was still there … ran right across the plaza to get one and was delighted they tasted exactly the same.

    • Tom says:

      I just love reading stories like that. I was back in Mass about 15 years ago with a friend and insisted that we go out of our way to Atkins Farm for cider donuts. She thought I was clear out of my damned mind. Until she tried one and ordered me to turn the car around pronto so we could pick up an extra 1/2 dozen. They’re still there to this day, which makes me very happy. (sadly, the donuts don’t travel well so I don’t order online)

      • March says:

        Donuts, man. There’s a place in Portland Me (when I visit the kids) called Holy Donut that makes a sweet potato donut with a ginger glaze … kids took me the first time, then I think I walked there and got one. But they’re only good fresh, I agree.

  • matty1649 says:

    Wonderful post X

  • cinnamon says:

    This was so lovely, Tom. I love reading about your part of SoCal. Here, well … we have a truly wonderful Turkish cafe in Exeter which has been around for ages (sadly, the Middle Eastern cafe with just the best falafel closed around five years ago) and a great bakery in the next village over. From London … well, my absolute favourite restaurant (a tiny French bistro which was in a less than salubrious party of Hackney — now fully gentrified) disappeared decades ago. Other than those, my faves are mostly in the US and mostly near where my father lived in Park Slope in Brooklyn: Geido (a great neighbourhood Japanese place), Banmigos (a hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese — like three stools at a counter — for really good pho) and ice cream from Ample Hills in Prospect Heights (the silly independent owners over expanded and went bankrupt so I think it’s now owned by PE). And cannoli from almost any bakery on lower Court Street in Carroll Gardens.

    • cinnamon says:

      Oh, and forgot, for London: Borough Market. Small enough to be manageable but full of great stalls for outstanding meat, fruit, veg, etc plus places to get breakfast and lunch and just hang and watch the world go by — whether locals doing their regular shopping or tourists.

      • Tom says:

        When I was at The Times in downtown we had this place called Grand Central Market. It had been there forever and had stalls with prepared food, veggie stands, a place that just made fresh tortilla’s, whatever you may want. I used to do the entire shopping for a catering for under $50: one was made to order mini quesadillas (with those fresh tortillas) with mounds of homemade salsa and guac.

        After I left The Times (and The Times left downtown) I heard that it gentrified somewhat and isn’t the same sawdust on the floor kind of place it was. I had jury duty downtown a few years ago and couldn’t bring myself to find if it was true..

    • Tom says:

      So many good places in Brooklyn..

      We had a really good (and cheap) falafel place in a little strip mall right by the Beverly Center that I used to go to all the time. The man who owned it had his young daughters help out- I watched them grow up as they worked at the place. A few years ago after not having been for a while (my lunch partner Lynn had died in 2016 and I didn’t go for many months after) there was a sign in the door stating that the owner retired. Can’t begrudge him that. Much.

  • Portia says:

    GAH! I want to come back and visit so bad. Hopefully 2023 Tom.
    Portia xx

  • Kathleen says:

    I loved reading your post Tom! The history and nostalgia. There is a fabulous little ice cream stand in the outskirts of my hometown in Canada. Not famous other than to the locals.I don’t know how but the best ice cream I’ve ever had. I’m going up there in September. I told my mom just this weekend that we were going to take a drive and she could treat me to an ice cream.

    • Tom says:

      Aren’t these places wonderful? There’s a frozen custard place in Milwaukee called Kopp’s that I will need to go to at some point. I could so make a food road trip of North America..